On the verge of the horizon, the sky assumed that peculiar appearance which whalers call ice-blink, and which is the result of the glare of light reflected obliquely from the surface of the ice against the opposite atmosphere. Vast tracts of the ocean became gradually solidified, the ice-fields, formed by the accumulation of icicles, became welded to the coast, presenting a surface broken and distorted by the action of the waves, and contrasting strongly with the smooth mirror of the lake. Here and there floated these long pieces, scarcely cemented together at the edges, known as “ drift ice,” and the “ hummocks,” or protuberances caused by the squeezing of one piece against another, were also of frequent occurrence.
In a few days the aspect of Cape Bathurst and the surrounding districts was completely changed. Mrs Barnett’s delight and enthusiasm knew no bounds; everything was new to her, and she would have thought no fatigue or suffering too great to be endured for the sake of witnessing such a spectacle. She could imagine nothing more sublime than this invasion of winter with all its mighty forces, this conquest of the northern regions by the cold. All trace of the distinctive features of the country had disappeared; the land was metamorphosed, a new country was springing into being before her admiring eyes, a country gifted with a grand and touching beauty. Details were lost, only the large outlines were given, scarcely marked out against the misty sky. One transformation scene followed another with magic rapidity. The ocean, which but lately lifted up its mighty waves, was hushed and still; the verdant soil of various hues was replaced by a carpet of dazzling whiteness; the woods of trees of different kinds were converted into groups of gaunt skeletons draped in hoar-frost; the radiant orb of day had become a pale disc, languidly running its allotted course in the thick fog, and visible but for a few hours a day, whilst the sea horizon, no longer clearly cut against the sky, was hidden by an endless chain of ice-bergs, broken into countless rugged forms, and building up that impenetrable ice-wall, which Nature has set up between the Pole and the bold explorers who endeavour to reach it.
We can well understand to how many discussions and conversations the altered appearance of the country gave rise. Thomas Black was the only one who remained indifferent to the sublime beauty of the scene. But what could one expect of an astronomer so wrapped up in his one idea, that he might be said to be present in the little colony in the body, but absent in spirit? He lived in the contemplation of the heavenly bodies, passing from the examination of one constellation to that of another, roving in imagination through the vast realms of space, peopled by countless radiant orbs, and fuming with rage when fogs or clouds hid the objects of his devotion from his sight. Hobson consoled him by promising him fine cold nights admirably suited to astronomical observations, when he could watch the beautiful Aurora Borealis, the lunar halos, and other phenomena of Polar countries worthy even of his admiration.
The cold was not at this time too intense; there was no wind, and it is the wind which makes the cold so sharp and biting. Hunting was vigorously carried on for some days. The magazines became stocked with new furs, and fresh stores of provisions were laid up. Partridges and ptarmigans on their way to the south passed over the fort in great numbers, and supplied fresh and wholesome meat. Polar or Arctic hares were plentiful, and had already assumed their white winter robes. About a hundred of these rodents formed a valuable addition to the reserves of the colony.
There were also large flocks of the whistling swan or hooper, one of the finest species of North America. The hunters killed several couples of them, handsome birds, four or five feet in entire length, with white plumage, touched with copper colour on the head and upper part of neck. They were on their way to a more hospitable zone, where they could find the aquatic plants and insects they required for food, and they sped through the air at a rapid pace, for it is as much their native element as water.